Nations Must Join Together for Water-Conservation And Sharing Projects to Promote World Peace
`THE only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water," declared President Anwar Sadat in the spring of 1979, only days after signing the historic peace treaty with Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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His warning was not directed at Israel, but at Ethiopia, the upstream riparian state that controls the headwaters of Egypt's lifeline, the Nile River. In May 1990, Jordan's King Hussein delivered a similar warning to Israel. "The only issue that will bring Jordan into war is water," he said.
In 1975, Iraq and Syria came to the brink of war over Syria's reduction of the flow of the Euphrates to fill the Ath-Thawrah Dam, which Iraq claimed adversely affected 3 million Iraqi farmers. In 1986, reports surfaced that Turkey had uncovered an alleged Syrian plot to blow up the Ataturk Dam, which Syria views as a threat to its farmers.
The United States government has estimated that in at least 10 places in the world, war could erupt over dwindling shared water resources. The majority of those places lie in the Middle East.
As one nation after another around the world reaches its water-resource limits, the potential for conflict will intensify. And if we take account of the potential for internal conflict within water-besieged states over polluted and scarce reserves, the global picture is a far cry from the new-world-order euphoria that warmed the hearts of television viewers around the globe in 1991.
Between 1985 and the year 2000, for example, the world's urban areas will absorb an additional 850 million people, pitting the Davidian capacity of existing water and sanitation services against the Goliath of demand.
Twenty-five nations are already experiencing chronic water shortages. That number will steadily rise to 90 as we move into the 21st century. By then, half the world's population will be affected, with the consequence that more than 5 billion people will be threatened by malnutrition, famine, and disease.
Public-health officials attribute almost 80 percent of the illnesses in third-world countries to contaminated water. The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that 35,000 children worldwide die daily from hunger or disease caused by lack of or contamination of water. It is believed that in Africa, 40 percent of the population will be at risk from water-related disease by the turn of the century.
A telescope to the future would show that water will soon be recognized as the foreign- policy resource issue of the 1990s. With the world's population racing towards 12 billion to 14 billion people as we move into the 21st century, our fragile, interdependent global ecosystem will barely be able to provide enough potable water, let alone food and space.
What most people fail to grasp is that the amount of available water on our planet hasn't increased since the beginning of time. Of all the water present on the earth's surface, only 2 percent is fresh water. Of this 2 percent, 87 percent is inaccessibly embedded in icecaps and glaciers, buried deep underground, or resident in the atmosphere.
This means that only 10 percent of the fresh water is actually in circulation. More starkly, of all the water in the world, only 1/3 of 1 percent is available for use by people and animals, and for economic development.
The competition grows fierce. There are 214 international river and lake basins in the world, of which 155 are shared by two countries, 36 by three nations, and 23 by up to a dozen countries.
Two billion people depend on intergovernmental cooperation for a guaranteed water supply, while 5 billion citizens of the planet ultimately depend on those who govern to ensure their water future. War, famine, disease, and economic collapse could be the offspring of our choices.
Eastern Europe was endowed by nature with ample water resources. Yet Poland's river water is so contaminated that 95 percent of it is unfit to drink, while almost all of Romania's river waters and 50 percent of those in Czechoslovakia are dangerously polluted. Killer algae proliferates in the Mediterranean, threatening rivers from Spain to Italy.
Moreover, as Christian Taylor of the Financial Times in London reported in July 1989, the ecological catastrophe of the Aral Sea region in Soviet Central Asia is "worse than Chernobyl." (See story at left.) In Karakapakia, pollution from the sea and toxins from the local water-dependent cotton economy have contaminated all available drinking water.